10 Proven Ways To Make Your Message “Go Viral”

First, can I confess something?

I hate talking about “content” like this.

It’s the word itself.

So cold, so academic. It sounds like we’re talking dispassionately about fuel grades at a gas pump.

“Content,” of course, just means the stuff we say and how we say it, where we say it, what it looks like, and whatever else goes with all that.

That said, when you throw your back into making… “stuff”… that is, a carefully considered message… whether that’s advertising or just general editorial information… you want it to get read.

You also want it to stick. You want it to get passed around. Most of all, you want it to evoke a reaction.

In our case, that reaction hopefully involves a credit card or a customer service call. Or at least a click.

So when you stumble across someone who’s got definitive proof about what works, collected live from the battlefield for the mind, you pay attention.

Well, stumble I did.

During a search for something else, I came across a hefty hunk of Buzzsumo research that was originally shared last fall, under the headline “We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (New Research).”

I mention that not just so you can go find the original article yourself — which I welcome you to do — but because, hey, if they really did that and THAT was the headline they chose to report it… it tells you something, yes?

Allow me, though, to whet your appetite even before you toddle off, by giving you a quick tour right here. Now, mind you, all this analysis comes mostly from Facebook posts. So this is especially relevant to you if that’s where you’re running your ads, posting your teaser content, or whatever. Which many of us do.

So, let’s jump in…

First, says Buzzsumo’s data, if you really want to crush it with shared content, clicks, and the like, try including these three magic words somewhere in your headline…

“Will make you..”

As in, “What This Copywriter Reveals Will Make You Change Your Mind About Writing Headlines…” or some such.

That “will make you” combo got clicks and shares at double the rate of the next most common word combination, “this is why”… and nearly triple the clicks of the next most engaging phrase, “can we guess.”

Equally powerful were headlines that trigger emotions… like “make you cry”… “melt your heart”… or “can’t stop laughing”… you get the picture.

Do these smack of “click-bait” tactics? Yes, they sure do. And congrats for spotting that. But hey, it’s called bait for a reason — because it makes fish bite. Right?

Meanwhile, curiosity-based phrases were also huge, along with voyeuristic ones. So anything that tells the inside story, smacks of gossip, or teases a withheld secret.

No surprise there.

Nor is there any surprise that headlines that include specific numbers or that that help the reader identify with a “tribe” can work well. Something, say, like, “16 Things Only a Frustrated Copywriter Will Understand.”

What might shock you, though, is the phrases that fell like lead balloons. For example, headlines that included the phrase “control of your” were frequently duds.

So were headlines that used pairings like, “Your own business”… “work for you”… “X simple tips”… “Don’t forget to”… “Simple way to”… and “on a budget.”

Incredible, right? After all, don’t all those terms seem to tease good, desirable stuff? They do. But hey, you can’t fight City Hall.

But, you say, these are phrases that show up in the middle of a headline. Which words are the best ones to use at the START of a tease?

Numbers, per Buzzsumo, are staggeringly powerful. As in, “X reasons why” and “X things you” Both are big winners, along with other variations.

Does it matter WHICH number, though? Yes, apparently. You can’t go wrong with “10”… “5”… “15”… “7”… “20”… “6”… “8”… or “12”… in that order.

Or so they’ve found.

If you’re a stickler for starting with words in a headline, “this” is the hands-down winner and “Trump” comes in a close second. Also, “how” is a pretty safe third, with “why” and “what” not so far behind.

Okay then, you say, but how MANY words?

The data has you covered there too. About 12 to 18 seems to be the sweet spot. More or less and you’ll get lower response. And by the way, all together they’re seeing an average of 80 to 95 characters. That’s about 5 to 6 letters per word. So… shortish.

Again, not a big surprise. Worth noting though, is that in business-to-business headlines, the average word count is a little shorter.

And in all cases, any headline that can hint there’s a story to be told below, with specifics, is also a plus.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

All of this smacks of “magic formula” writing, of the kind that stifles creativity rather than inspires it.

And hey, I feel ya.

At the same time, I’ll bet you can’t get these findings out of your head the next time you sit down to write an insert ad, a lift note, an article headline, or a sales letter. Just go ahead and try.

But wait there, JTF, you promised me “10 Absolute Ways…” and I haven’t seen you number anything yet. Need I go back and count? Nay, my friend. I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. Here it is below…

1) When in doubt, says their research, go LONG.

Yep, that’s right. Just because everybody and their grandma — literally — is consuming stuff on a smartphone, everything you suspect about why content should be short is… wrong. The top 10% of shared content was still clocking in at 3,000 to 10,000 words. That’s true on most media platforms too, not just Facebook. Buzzsumo says if you want clicks and forwards, aim for at LEAST 2,000 words.

2) Never, Not Ever, Post WITHOUT an Image.

An add, an article, a website link — whatever it is, you’re going to want to post with an image. They get more than twice the engagement as posts without. When it’s a thumbnail for a link, it gets triple the clicks of one without. Presumably, that holds true for long text too. Especially in the smartphone age. Break it up with images.

3) Make Your Reader Proud — to Share

Readers really, really like to share stuff that’s going to reflect well on them once they post it to their feeds. By extension, you can probably figure that’s the kind of stuff they’ll click first themselves, as well. ??Maybe that’s why the longer, more in-depth articles get shared more often. It’s almost certainly why folks both click and pass along the content that validates their own views. Most of all, readers seem to share the stuff that makes them look smart, fun, or helpful in some way. ??Quizzes, for instance, are incredibly popular. Yes, the kind that say, “What kind of dog are you?” or “Which Avenger would you be” or — in the #1 slot — “What career should you have?”

4) Target Emotions, but the Right Ones

Among the top 10,000 articles shared online, a full quarter of them were the kind written to inspire awe and amazement. Close behind were the pieces of content made to get people laughing or amused. Those that tried to make a reader angry about something or sad were, surprisingly, the LEAST shared.

5) Lists and Infographics Still Rule.

Yep, we’ve all seen it done to death — listicle articles that promise “X secret ways…” to do this and “XX brilliant steps” to that. Heck, we did it ourselves in the title of this very piece. ??But lists and infographics stomp on the clickability of more vanilla, less specific “How,” “What,” or “Why” posts. They beat video-bearing posts too, by the way. Personally, I click them because I like to skim. So take that for what it is.

6) 10 Really IS a Magic Number

I said this above. But apparently I have to say it again. Readers love to click on lists of “10” items. Why? I’ll be honest, this surprises me too. After all, I really would have thought such a round number was LESS enticing than one that’s more oddball and seemingly specific. And yet, lists of “10” items engage readers four times more than the next closest digit. Go figure.

7) For Business Readers, Have a Byline

We all know trust matters. And readers tend to click on and share text that seems easier to trust. But if you’re writing to readers on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google, apparently a byline or author bio helps. On Facebook, not so much. Strangely. Maybe because the person who shares the post is already more prominently featured.

8) Get Oprah On Board

Really, really… really… want lots of people to see your stuff? Find a way to get an “influencer” involved. If, say, you’ve got pictures of your weekend at the beach online, imagine how many more thumbs up you’ll get if Oprah posts it with a “Hey, check this out!” referral. Many, many more than your post deserves, no doubt.

The point here is that word-of-mouth is much more important now that so many people have so much more prominent digital “mouths” to listen to.

So how do you get that kind of respected pass-along endorsement? ??Buzzsumo recommends you find what the influencers are posting, and then involve them somehow in your follow up. Quote them, interview them, repost whatever they’ve already posted that’s related.

9) Write Evergreen — If Possible — And Re-Promote

You’ve heard the expression about guests and old fish. Both start to stink after about three days. Social media posts only last a little longer, about four days, before they see a nearly 100% fall-off in clicks and forwards. About a week in, make sure you re-promote or post it again.

10) When In Doubt, Post on Tuesday

We’ve heard this tip shift up and down the calendar, over the years. But Tuesdays, say the findings, have been confirmed as the best day to post.


Maybe it’s because most information goes on those sites at the start of the week and, by Tuesday, enough of it’s been plowed through that there’s room to get seen. This e-letter used to come out on Tuesdays, by the way, for that reason. Maybe we’ll go back to that.

There you go… that’s a PILE of info to process… or re-process, if you’ve already seen some of this making the rounds. Either way, feel free to share it! Here’s a link that will make it easier for you to pass along: https://copywritersroundtable.com/10-proven-ways-t…message-go-viral/

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